Is A Safety Pilot Acting As Second In Command? Not Necessarily!

by Greg Reigel

If you are an instrument rated pilot, you know that you have to be “current” in order to legally exercise the privileges of an instrument rating as pilot-in-command. Specifically, in order to act as pilot-in-command of an instrument flight, 14 C.F.R. 61.57(c) requires that the airman must have performed and logged (1) six instrument approaches; (2) holding procedures and tasks; and (3) intercepting and tracking courses through the use of navigational electronic systems, all within the preceding six (6) calendar months. Although these tasks may be performed in instrument conditions, they may also be performed in visual conditions by “simulating” instrument conditions.

As you might expect, in order to operate an aircraft in simulated instrument conditions, certain requirements must be met. 14 C.F.R. 91.109(b) allows this type of operation in an aircraft equipped with fully functioning dual controls, as long as (1) the other control seat is occupied by a safety pilot who possesses at least a Private Pilot Certificate with category and class ratings appropriate to the aircraft being flown; and (2) the safety pilot has adequate vision forward and to each side of the aircraft, or a competent observer in the aircraft adequately supplements the vision of the safety pilot.”

Unfortunately, some airmen can be confused about the role of the safety pilot during a simulated instrument flight. It isn’t uncommon for airmen to refer to their safety pilot as being “second-in-command.” However, unless the aircraft being used is type certificated for operation by more than one pilot or the operation conducted by the pilots requires a designated second-in-command (e.g. an operation conducted under 14 C.F.R. 135.101, which requires a second-in-command for IFR operations), the designation of a safety pilot as an acting second in command crewmember, is not accurate.

Now, you might be wondering how a safety pilot may “log” his or her flight time while acting as a safety pilot in that situation. Well, you need to keep in mind that “acting” as a second-in-command pilot during a flight is different than “logging time” for acting as a safety pilot. Under the regulations, an airman may log second-in-command time for the portion of the flight during which he or she was acting as a safety pilot because the safety pilot was a required flight crewmember for that portion of the flight under FAR 14 C.F.R. 91.109(b). In that situation, the airman was only acting as a safety pilot, not as second-in-command for the flight.

The distinction between “acting” as second-in-command, or pilot-in-command for that matter, versus “logging” second-in-command or pilot-in-command time, is an important one. Depending upon the circumstances, an airman may be able to both “act” as second-in-command or pilot-in-command and “log time” as second-in-command or pilot-in-command. In other situations, he or she may only be able to do one or the other. Although it can be tricky, airmen need to make sure they understand the distinction to ensure that they are logging their time accurately and in compliance with the regulations.

EDITORS NOTE: Greg Reigel is an attorney with Reigel Law Firm, Ltd., a law firm located in Hopkins, Minnesota, which represents clients in aviation and business law matters (, 952-238-1060).

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This entry was posted in Aviation Law, Columns, Columns, June/July 2013 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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